Chicago

Jaime Davidovich, Outreach: The Changing Role of the Art Museum, 1978. Installation view.

Jaime Davidovich, Outreach: The Changing Role of the Art Museum, 1978. Installation view.

Jaime Davidovich

Threewalls

Jaime Davidovich, Outreach: The Changing Role of the Art Museum, 1978. Installation view.

Comprising eleven videos spread across three thematically organized screening programs, and curated for Threewalls by art historian and Artforum contributor Daniel Quiles, “Outreach: Jaime Davidovich, 1974–1984” provided a welcome point of entry into the Argentinean-born, New York–based artist’s pioneering work in video and cable-access television. Additionally on view were a re-creation of the 1970 tape installation Yellow Wall, a selection of early works on paper and television-related ephemera, and, in a nod to Davidovich’s historical role as a presenter of others’ work alongside his own, a live stream of videos from the Chicago-based artists’ television network ACRE TV.

The earliest videos in the exhibition (all black-and-white) reflected a quasi-structuralist concern for the formal qualities of the medium and its relation to time and space. In 3 Mercer Street, 1975, the camera repeatedly performs a 360-degree pan around Ronald Feldman’s SoHo gallery space, each time catching a glimpse of artist Stuart Sherman performing a series of actions never revealed in their entirety. In Walking SoHo, 1975, a woman slowly moves away from the static camera, eventually disappearing into the lower Manhattan streetscape’s vanishing point.

Davidovich hit his stride as a mobilizer and producer of TV-based projects after cofounding first Cable SoHo in 1976, and then, two years later, the NEA-funded Artists’ Television Network. In Davidovich’s 1978 video Outreach: The Changing Role of the Art Museum, critic Gregory Battcock moderates a roundtable discussion with New Museum founding director Marcia Tucker; Monmouth County Art Museum director Judith van Baron; Charles Hovland, sales director for the Guggenheim Museum in New York; and Gerard LeFrancis, coordinator of public programs for the Brooklyn Museum. The directors are gathered to discuss a number of novel strategies that art museums had begun implementing to reach new audiences and develop new revenue streams. Ranging from free parking and admission to space rentals and community-outreach programs, these tactics have since become so commonplace that it’s difficult to imagine a time when institutions were just beginning to consider them. If Davidovich’s video documentation at first appears straightforward (even banal), one increasingly wonders whether the whole project wasn’t a put-on. The camera is repeatedly positioned so that Hovland’s head is hidden behind a large vase of flowers, and the participants constantly talk over one another as Battcock futilely attempts to regain control of the conversation.

From 1979 to 1984, Davidovich produced The Live! Show for Manhattan Cable Television, appearing both as himself and as the fictional media critic Dr. Videovich, a character of the artist’s devising. In one particularly memorable 1980 episode included in this exhibition, Davidovich and cohost Carol Stevenson demonstrate Qube, an early interactive cable-television system developed by Warner Communications. Broadcasting from the Qube studio in Columbus, Ohio, where the service debuted on December 1, 1977, the hosts ask viewers to call in and “direct” one of the show’s dual live feeds, instructing the camera operators to tilt, pan, zoom, and adjust focus. Although strikingly primitive by today’s standards and phased out after only a few years, Qube presaged many subsequent developments in the cable industry. Beyond the participatory scenario of this episode of The Live! Show—itself a distant precursor to today’s TV competitions in which viewers are invited to vote—Qube’s programming packages introduced such now-standard features as pay-per-view, on-demand viewing, and specialized channels for music, sports, children’s shows, and so on, making Davidovich’s employ of the then–relatively unknown technology all the more serendipitous, or prophetic.

From our contemporary perspective, it can be hard to conjure the sense of potential artists felt when they first gained access to video- and television-production facilities in the 1960s and ’70s. While many early artistic experiments in television took an explicitly oppositional stance toward the TV industry, Davidovich and his cohort devised clever ways to work with television rather than against it. In an undated text cited in Quiles’s accompanying essay, Davidovich predicted that television was heading in the direction of “narrowcasting,” in which programming would be “increasingly geared for more specialized audience interests”—a forecast that, from the evolution of cable television itself to the almost granular degree of customization available in today’s online environment, has proved ever more prescient in the ensuing years.

Jacob Proctor